My colleagues Lauren and Penny both had very difficult conversations recently with people over their referee choice. They both had candidates who were either unable or unwilling to provide ‘suitable’ referees. We were concerned that poor referee selection would hurt the chances of both people.
We all understand the dilemma:
- Applicant Fred does not want his current manager made aware of his job application. He is therefore unwilling for the manager to be contacted;
- Yet potential employer Wilma is really seeking information from Fred’s manager as soon as possible in a recruitment process.
Fred wants to wait but Wilma wants the contact made now. Whenever a person is changing industry sectors this dilemma is worsened. Much of our work is in the Education sector. In Education it is common practice to provide referee details when applying for a role; however many sectors do not operate in this manner.
So when Commercial sector Fred applies to join Education sector Wilma we find that both can be amazed at the stance of the other.
Whether it is because of such concerns; or due a lack of thought, recruiters are faced time and again with situations where people provide inappropriate referees.
Here are some hints and tips for your referee selection and preparation:
Referee choice – who to select?
You should ALWAYS, ALWAYS provide referees who can comment, in a meaningful and detailed way, on the nature and quality of your work.
Whether the referee is a peer; someone you managed; or your manager; the best referees will have worked with you:
- for a considerable period of time; and
- In a role where the selection criteria has some alignment with the role you’re applying for; and
- More recently, rather than in the distant past.
The referee most probably will not be:
- a personal contact; or
- an external consultant who only has periodic contact; or
- a colleague who has worked with you for a very short period of time; or
- a person only able to speak about you in relation to a much less senior, or very different role.
Yet such people are regularly put forward to us as referees.
At some stage in the process you will need to provide at least one of your recent/current managers. If your circumstances mean this is not possible until very late in the process, don’t limit your chances of progressing to that latter stage by using referees who are inappropriate.
I’ve seen good applicants eliminated from a process because the quality of their referee’s insights hasn’t matched the depth provided by other applicants, thereby reflecting poorly upon the applicant.
Contacting your referees
My advice to people whenever providing referee details to a recruiter is to have the courtesy to brief the referee before the recruiter makes contact with them. This is best done via a phone conversation (assuming face-to-face is not practical) rather than just sending an email, SMS or leaving a message.
Provide your the referee with details of the role you have applied for; and give them a reminder of your career. A copy of your resume is usually well received.
Providing referee details to the recruiter
I’d suggest your resume should not list your referees. A resume should also not bother with a statement ‘References provided on request’ which is such a waste of valuable resume space.
When providing referee details you should supply: referee name and current position; your relationship to the referee, eg. the CFO who directly managed me when we were both at XYZ Ltd; and contact details, ideally including their current main office number and mobile number.
And PLEASE, whether successful or not, don’t forget to contact your referees afterwards. They will welcome an update and a few words of appreciation- again by a telephone call or a handwritten thank you note; not an email, SMS or voicemail message.
Read our recent related article on ‘missing out on jobs – what others won’t tell you‘